OMAHA, Neb. — For once, there was no hero.
There was no comeback, no magic, no mystique.
For once, the Texas Longhorns were in the driver’s seat for almost the entire game.
This time, they crashed. It was LSU’s turn.
With two outs and his Tigers two runs down in the ninth inning Monday night, LSU’s DJ LeMahieu hit a two-run double to tie Texas in Game 1 of the College World Series finals.
The Tigers won the game in the 11th inning on an RBI single by Mikie Mahtook, taking a 7-6 victory.
LSU will try to win its sixth national title at 6 p.m. today, in Game 2 of the best-of-three championship series.
The Longhorns have produced some heroics during the postseason. They’ve won a 25-inning game. They’ve had a walk-off walk, grand slam and home run.
Not on this day, though.
“It can’t always be us,” Texas designated hitter Russell Moldenhauer said. “We can’t always be the ones with the late-inning heroics and the celebrations and the drama going our way.”
But on Monday, it could have been.
That’s because the Longhorns pounded out five solo home runs, including two by Moldenhauer, and led 6-4 heading into the ninth inning. Before Monday, the Longhorns were 39-0 this season when they led heading into the ninth.
This time, the UT bullpen tightened up in the ninth and the Tigers pounced.
Reliever Austin Wood, who gave up a two-run triple in the sixth inning after replacing starter Chance Ruffin, got Jared Mitchell to ground out to start the ninth. But then Mahtook hit a single to left field and the Longhorns (49-15-1) brought in freshman Taylor Jungmann. He threw six straight balls before he was replaced by Austin Dicharry.
“That was my fault,” Texas coach Augie Garrido said. “I put (Jungmann) in a situation he wasn’t comfortable with. All of the pitching moves were my decisions. I played my cards, and if I could do it again I would play them differently.”
With two outs and runners on first and third, Dicharry gave up a two-run double to LeMahieu that tied the game.
The Longhorns looked stunned.
They were the team that couldn’t lose in the end, the team of destiny.
But they couldn’t score in the ninth, or in the 10th, even after reliever Brandon Workman got out of a bases-loaded jam by striking out two batters, giving the Longhorns some extra-inning momentum.
In the top of the 11th, LeMahieu walked to start the inning, stole second with two outs and advanced to third when Texas catcher Cameron Rupp’s throw went into center field. Mahtook then singled in the go-ahead run.
Texas went down in order in the bottom of the 11th. They didn’t even threaten. Matty Ott (4-2) struck out Brandon Loy and Tim Maitland, and Connor Rowe grounded out to end the game.
Perhaps it shouldn’t have gotten to that point.
That’s because the Longhorns, who hit three solo home runs in the fourth inning, were rolling with a 3-1 lead in the sixth inning, with starter Chance Ruffin on the mound. He had runners on first and third and had just struck out Mahtook for the second out.
Ruffin had a little cramping in his right calf.
“It was fine,” Ruffin said. “It wasn’t affecting my pitching.”
Pitching coach Skip Johnson came out of the dugout and brought in Wood.
“(The calf) was not what took me out of the game,” said Ruffin, who had given up just five hits on 87 pitches. “I was feeling fine and I was going to fight through it. The decision was made. I wasn’t consulted.”
Wood gave up a two-run double to Mitchell. Just like that, the game was tied.
The Longhorns now must win two games, today and Wednesday, to claim the national championship.
The three-game championship series format has been in place for six years, and the team that lost Game 1 has come back to win the series twice, including Fresno State last season.
“We’ve got to forget about this one and pretend like it never happened,” Moldenhauer said. “If we dwell on it we’re not going to be able to come back and play the way we need to tomorrow. So we go home, go to bed and wake up to a new day.”
It needs to be a winning day.
If it isn’t, the season — and the Longhorns’ amazing postseason run — is over.